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OPD hasn't issued citations for gathering ban despite reports of parties

<p>Recently elected city councilperson Amber Franklin has led the charge to add a social worker to OPD.</p>

Recently elected city councilperson Amber Franklin has led the charge to add a social worker to OPD.

With the passing of a city ordinance banning gatherings of more than 10 people, the Oxford Police Department (OPD) has been tasked with monitoring students even more closely, looking for any large gatherings that may put the community at risk.

But after nearly a week of the ordinance being in effect, no citations have been given for violating the gathering ban, said OPD Records Specialist Matt Stitzel. 

According to the ordinance, any resident caught hosting parties of more than 10 people could receive a $500 first offense citation from the city, or a $1,000 fine for repeat offenses.

OPD Lieutenant Lara Fening said the department hasn’t issued any gathering ban citations in an effort to let community members become informed of the new regulations before penalizing them. Fening also said that issuing citations is at the officers’ discretion.

Fening said the department also hopes to approach many of the situations with an attitude of education, explaining to students what the problem is and encouraging them to practice safe habits.

The department usually responds to house parties for nuisance violations, Fening said. These include excessive noise, littering, alcohol violations, fake IDs, open containers and actual nuisance parties, which are parties that violate multiple laws. 

The department has given citations for minor violations such as littering but none for violating the gathering ban, Stitzel said. 

“We are particularly sensitive to these gatherings and parties this year because of COVID,” Fening said. “We are all affected by COVID, one way or the other, and the students are particularly affected if there is an outbreak.”

She also explained a sense of fear throughout the town that students will be sent home due to an outbreak. For the sake of the town, she hopes the situation won’t come to that.

“Everyone in this town will be affected if there’s an outbreak in the student population due to an irresponsible gathering or party,” Fening said.

Oxford residents have taken to the private Facebook group Oxford Talk (OHIO) to post their complaints of students violating COVID-19 regulations throughout the city.

Oxford resident Janice Bisson said that she witnessed a party in her off-campus neighborhood last Saturday with people sitting in the driveway and drinking while making lots of noise.

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“We don't appreciate the college students bringing their parties to our neighborhood and the increased COVID risk to the entire town,” Bisson said. “These kids have to go to Kroger or Walmart at some point where I unfortunately have to share space with them. By potentially exposing themselves, they’re also exposing my family, and it’s incredibly selfish.”

Other Oxford residents, like Alison Kleibscheidel, are trying to look at the situation with a sympathetic mindset.

“I sympathize with Miami students because I am sure it’s hard to be back here without their families and stay in a bubble,” she said. “They have friends at five plus houses that create their family away from home, so to socially distance is more difficult.” 

While Kleibscheidel understands the need for socialization, she is also weary of the problems an outbreak among students could bring. 

“I think that the biggest reason Miami is urging students to be aware of the community in Oxford is because their choices reverberate into the whole community,” she said.

Anyone wishing to submit concerns over individuals violating COVID-19 regulations can do so through the city’s website. These reports, which can be made anonymously, are sent to the City Manager’s office, who works hand-in-hand with the local health department.

The university also has a reporting system for concerns regarding COVID-19 regulations which can be accessed here.

Fening said that while OPD understands the need for students to socialize, students need to follow the correct guidelines.

“Maybe things will be different in the spring,” Fening said. “But for now, just sacrifice a little bit so we can make sure that everybody gets to stay.”